Cook: Malkin outplays Ovechkin again
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Where was George Birman when we really needed him?
A Penguins employee, he serves as the team's Russian translator.
Where was he when the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin hooked up with the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin in the bowels of Mellon Arena early last night after the Penguins' 3-2 win?
Wouldn't you have loved to been a part of that little chat between the two good friends and former Russian national teammates?
Here's a guess how their conversation might have went:
"Hang in there, Ovie. Keep playing hard. One of these days, you'll get the best of Sid and me."
Actually, we won't attempt to speculate Ovechkin's response.
It can't possibly be suited for One of America's Great Newspapers.
"Yeah, of course, I'm enjoying playing against him, especially when we win," Malkin had said through Birman a bit earlier in the Penguins' locker room. "He's getting pretty mad."
No translation was needed to decipher Malkin's and Birman's laughter.
Yes, these are fabulous times for the Penguins, who ran their unbeaten-in-regulation streak to 14-0-2 with another workmanlike performance. These are fabulous times for Malkin, who, strange as it seems now, was something of a consolation prize for the Penguins in the 2004 NHL entry draft. Despite finishing with the league's worst record the season before, the Penguins lost the draft lottery to the Capitals, who took Ovechkin No. 1. The Penguins settled for Malkin at No. 2.
Talk about a lovely parting gift.
Talk about the start of a beautiful rivalry between friends.
For the next 10 or 15 years, the Penguins-Capitals series figures to be noted for the duel between Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. Because of the NHL lockout in 2004-05, the two came into the league together last season. Ovechkin edged Crosby for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
That's about the only time Ovechkin has beaten Crosby, by the way. His Capitals are 1-6 against Crosby's Penguins.
Ovechkin has had even less success against Malkin, who almost certainly will succeed him as the Calder Trophy winner. The Penguins are 3-0 against the Capitals this season with Malkin playing a huge role in two of the wins. Ovechkin, meanwhile, didn't score a goal.
"I'm sure [Malkin] gets extra motivation when he plays a good friend," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
That first showed when the clubs played a mid-December game in Washington. Malkin tied the score with a goal late in regulation, then won it in a shootout. It showed again yesterday when Malkin gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead late in the second period with a sick goal, beating goaltender Brent Johnson to the short side with a rocket shot from a ridiculous angle to Johnson's left.
"An amazing shot," Crosby said.
"An incredible goal," teammate Mark Recchi said.
"A perfect shot," Therrien said.
Yeah, that sick.
"Only a few guys can score that goal. Most don't even try that shot," Recchi said, shaking his head.
Thing is, Recchi has seen that goal before. In the same old building, no less. That goes back to his first stint with the Penguins in the late '80s and early '90s. Though he admits to feeling sacrilegious at times, he has not been afraid to compare Malkin to you know who.
"I've said that from day one," Recchi said. "His size, his hands ..."
Malkin has a ways to go to match Lemieux's popularity here, but he's off to a nice start. Look at the adversity he has shrugged off. His odyssey from Magnitogorsk last summer. The language and cultural differences. A shoulder injury in his first exhibition game that wiped out most of his preseason and cost him the first four games of the regular season.
Despite it all, Malkin is the NHL's leading rookie scorer with 29 goals, 37 assists and 66 points. He has scored at least a point in his past 14 home games. And he has been his best in the clutch with 12 goals and 14 assists in the third period and overtime.
There is one more thing.
Malkin has pulled within six points of Ovechkin in their personal battle.
Do you think Malkin might have mentioned something about that to Ovechkin last night?
Really, has anyone seen George Birman?
First Published February 19, 2007 12:00 am